Haidergate in Austria

Right-wing extremist Freedom Party (FPÖ) boss Jörg Haider is locked in a fight for his political life after becoming embroiled in a massive scandal, over thefts from the national police computer, which has left his party reeling.

By Karl Pfeifer and Graeme Atkinson

It has been an open secret for years that Haider and other FPÖ leaders have used stolen police files against opponents but now prosecutors in Vienna have opened formal investigations against sixty one people, including Haider, justice minister, Dieter Böhmdorfer and a number of FPÖ officials.

All are suspected of subverting the police and using informants in the force to dig up dirt on anyone challenging their rise to power. These moves followed a series of dramatic revelations, in early October, in a newly-published book by Josef Kleindienst, former head of the police trade union affiliated to the FPÖ.

Kleindienst has admitted he rifled the police computer system,  stealing files and classified information and passing them on to the party. The information, obtained this way since 1990, was then used by the FPÖ to discredit opponents against opponents in trials,  at news conferences and in public debates.

Kleindienst and other police officials – ten were suspended including, at one stage, Haider’s chief bodyguard Horst Binder – received payments for their services but the source of the money is not yet known. Kleindienst has admitted dereliction of duty but could still face criminal charges.

Haider, who now has no immunity from prosecution, has been questioned by police about the spying allegations and  documents found at Binder’s home. The usually voluble FPÖ boss refused to say anything about  this, other than that the documents had been “manipulated”.

Slandering critics has long been a favoured FPÖ tactic and was mentioned in the European Union's “three wise men’s” report on Austria. When slander failed, libel actions often followed. At one such trial, Böhmdorfer used material siphoned off the central police computer, which holds personal details of every Austrian, presenting typical police photographs showing a person from three angles. He claims he believed it was a passport photograph.

Haider has seemingly  decided that attack is the best way to rescue his tarnished image and has accused the “red brothers” of  inventing the whole story, telling the media that the scandal  sprang “from the sick minds of journalists.” “We shall create order in the spy state built by the Reds,” he vowed.

Threats from Haider and his cronies  to leave the  coalition because of the scandal resulted in a meeting of government leaders from the conservative Austrian People’s Party and the FPÖ at a wine restaurant at which they assured each other they are like Siamese twins. Wolfgang Schüssel cannot continue as chancellor without Haider’s support and the FPÖ would lose a huge chunk of its support if it  provoked elections before the end of the government’s four year term.

The poor results in Styria, on 15 October, where the FPÖ vote slumped heavily from 17% to 12.7%, have forced the FPÖ to go revert to type. Speaking to an audience of 2,000 in Vienna’s city hall at the start of the campaign for next March’s local elections, Haider used his customary rabble-rousing tone to demand for a total halt to immigration, calling for the “elimination” of all illegal immigrants living in Austria.

“There are far too many illegal immigrants, crimes and drug dealers – none of them have a place here in Austria. This has to be our priority, to eliminate them uncompromisingly,” he declared. He also called for a ban on all anti-government demonstrations, adding: “Since I've taken office in Carinthia, no left-winger has dared to demonstrate there any more.”

Outside the city hall, FPÖ supporters clashed with anti-Haider demonstrators. Two members of the Socialist Party’s youth movement were treated in hospital. Their attackers were arrested. Nazi skinheads involved in the clashes are reported to have shouted: “What Haider can’t do, we’ll carry out on his behalf’ and “Inside they're talking, outside we”ll get down to business.” The Socialist youth organisation may sue Haider for incitement.

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